Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Energy Breakthough? The Bloom Box

Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes interviews K.R. Sridhar, founder of Bloom Energy.

Sridhar holds a block in his hand.

The block is a complete power plant, a fuel cell. Oxygen goes in one side, fuel in another. Combined, kaBoom, electricity.

As Huffington Post reports (and as I'm paraphrasing), Google, Walmart, FedEx are on board already. Bloom Energy's big coming out is this week. Sridhar says one to two small bricks will power a home. Sixty-four will power a good-sized business. The trick of course will be to get the costs down to where the fuel cell production costs are competitive with big energy and will beat clear energy (solar, wind.)

The output of the fuel cell, at least, we are assured is clean. *smiles*

A real breakthrough in energy. Clean, portable, inexpensive (relatively.) And a box smaller than a breadbox can power a HOME. Start imagining how EVERYTHING changes with (essentially) unlimited power.

Right now we're almost to the point where we have free bandwidth. Call it $30-50 USD a month for most of us for all-you-can-eat bandwidth. Imagine a world where $30-50 a month for most of us gives us all-you-can-eat power. I don't mean enough to run your home. I mean UNLIMITED power. Enough to run your own manufacturing plant. Not on Day 1. But we're not quite at unlimited bandwidth yet either although the day is clearly coming, and not over wires or fiber either, though that's clearly an interim step. Thirty to Fifty years from now EVERY human being on the planet will have unlimited bandwidth all the time anywhere from at least low earth orbit to (likely) 50-100 meters below ground at multi-gigabyte wireless speeds for themselves and any and all devices they wish, free of charge (or at a cost so minimal it is included as a "basic human right" that is SO fundamental to what it is to be a human being that it is not even taken away from prisoners.)

By thirty to fifty years from now, power -- electricity -- will be at least to where we are today with bandwidth, and likely more, as our ability to accelerate scientific progress is much better now than is was fifty years ago. We not only have better tools, but we know more. My guess is, thirty years from now people will have unlimited power. Then just as people are now inventing possibilities with the Internet that were never imagined 30 to 50 years ago, with every person having access to 300-500 Mega-Watts an hour, hell, what if 30 years from now an individual person had access to 5,000 GigaWatts an hour, that is (if I have my math right) about 2,000 times the amount of power Seattle currently uses in one hour at peak load, that is 2,500 MegaWatts an hour. Giga should be 1,000 times more, and 5,000 is twice as much. But... with Moore's Law we've absolutely had that kind of growth with hard drives and RAM as well as transistors. I'm being very very conservative in my estimates, simply because no one has YET got Moore's Law working on power generation. But it IS coming; that's my point, and the moment it does, kaBOOM...

Power which is currently a limited and dirty resource which only the first-world has enough of, barely, will become a clean-green and abundant resource, eventually too cheap to meter. *smiles* Which is of course, precisely where we are headed with bandwidth. And RAM. And a lot of similar stuff, which is going to become amazingly abundant as soon as either a) we get power handled, or b) we get out of LEO and start hanging out at the asteroids. Any one average sized one of which has an estimated value of about $20 Trillion USD, and there are roughly one million -- if I remember my numbers correctly -- of the "average" size in the belt. It's raining money; all we have to do is have the fucking big brass ones to get off the planet and go get it. Not to mention that it solves our power issue, as there is, literally, unlimited power as soon as we get to LEO. It's called THE SUN and it works 24/7.

If anyone had suggested to me back in 1975 when I was messing around with 4 bytes of RAM (yes, that was bytes, and four was a LOT of RAM, thank you) and an IBM Punch Card, that people would carry 64 GB of memory on their key-chains, or that PetaBytes and more would be storage sizes (coming soon to a CostCo near you for only a hundred bucks... probably within 3-5 years) and that RAM could be defined in hundreds of GB and climbing with tens of thousands of computers linked together in Data centers so big they are placed by BIG rivers to take advantage of inexpensive hydroelectricity for air-conditioning to keep them cool.

Or on the flip side, that a company with the Beatles's logo would release a 1.5 pound machine that plays movies and music and games so real you forget they are games plus tells you how to get from one place to another, as well as shows my beautiful pictures of my children and lets me read books. Truly I'd have never believed it for REAL in 1975, not that it would be REAL in only 35 years. Real in my lifetime, yeah, sure. But not in 35 years, not before even the IBM PC was out, not before the Osborne 1 or the Apple, not back in the punchcard days. Yet, 35 years later, here we are.

That's why I'm saying that 30 years from now -- and we have all of this computer technology as a base to grow from, all of this ability to LEARN quickly, the entire Internet to reference knowledge and to store information and new and improved ways of learning and thinking which are growing and unfolding and doubling and tripling our base every year or so... AND we have peak oil breathing down our necks to motivate the hell out of us -- with all of this I say we will have power in MegaWatts to large for us to imagine now in any realistic terms. Thirty years from now we'll have passed into the Singularity in Information, in Medicine, in Power, in Biology and Nanotechnology, in Genetics, in Space, and hopefully in ethics.

What each of us and our children will be able to do thirty years from now will be to drawn more or less any amount of power to do damn near anything anytime... that is a world which I suspect will be very very interesting.

H/T Huffington Post.